Friday, January 23

Point-Counterpoint: The Curious Case of Donovan F. McNabb

There has been much debate about Donovan's McNabb role past and present with the Philadelphia Eagles, his place among all-time quarterbacks, and just how good or bad a football player he really is. In this installment of Point-Counterpoint Catfish and I debate where number 5 falls and what his legacy will be in pro football. Cat will be the prosecutor, alleging that McNabb is not an elite signal-caller for his generation of quarterbacks and that he has been a hinderance to his franchises championhsip aspirations. My role will be as the court-appointed public defender who will contest that McNabb has been vital to the Eagles' success during his ten year run and gets the blame all to often by the team's inability to raise a Lombardi trophy. The case is set, read the arguments after the break.

Catfish has the Floor

If the question were, ‘have you ever used the word ‘thighs’ in mixed company?’ I would have to plead guilty, but we’re not here to discuss me, we’re here to discuss Mr. Donovan F. McNabb. To suggest he’s an elite quarterback is a travesty. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. In point and fact, Mr. McNabb has held the Philadelphia Eagles back from their potential.

Esquire Cleet may attempt to point at various statistics and Mr. McNabb’s rankings in various categories for the playoffs, but I ask you this, who would you rather have in the playoffs, Daunte Culpepper or Johnny Unitas? Mr. Culpepper had eight playoff touchdowns, where Johnny U had only seven in his career. Your focus should be on the fact that Mr. Unitas won three championships and Mr. Culpepper, zero. Mr. McNabb similarly has won no titles. More important than any statistic are moments.

Prosecution Exhibit A: Donovan's best playoff moment

Donovan McNabb’s most memorable moment of playoff success came in the divisional round of the 2003 playoffs. Facing 4th and 26, McNabb completed a 28-yard pass to Freddie Mitchell, getting the ball to midfield. As a quarterback, if your most memorable play is getting the ball to midfield, how successful a career have you had? To look deeper at what set up the play we can see that McNabb had two incompletions and took a sack for the 16-yard loss. Following the catch, McNabb was only able to complete two of five passes and ultimately the team would settle for a field goal to tie the game.

Prosecution Exhibit B: Completion Percentage

Donovan’s completion percentage for his career is 58.9 and he’s completed more than 60 percent in only three of his ten seasons. 58.9 percent is good enough for 41st all-time, behind the likes of Jon Kitna, David Carr, and J.P. Losman. 41st doesn’t sound terrible on the face, but we must look deeper. Of the top 20, only Joe Montana didn’t play in the league after 1998. The last ten years have produced almost all of the top completion percentages, but yet Donovan McNabb falls dramatically short. 25 active QBs have a higher completion percentage than him. Given that McNabb has largely become a dropback passer in the second half of his career, he doesn’t have his ability to scramble to fall back on.

Prosecution Exhibit C: Sacks Taken

The defendant is not only inaccurate, but he takes far too many sacks. Nearly seven percent (6.96) of the time, Mr. McNabb drops back he is felled for a loss, placing him behind 26 active quarterbacks and 91st all-time. Combined with his 41.1 percent incompletion percentage, his 2.1 percent interception rate, and the 6.96 sack percentage, means the Eagles gain nothing or lose yards on more than half of their passing plays. With the Eagles being primarily a passing team, if he was able to convert on more plays, the team would certainly be more successful.

Prosecution Exhibit D: The Eagles Defense

The Eagles defense has been one of the best during McNabb’s run as quarterback. In terms of points, the defenses has ranked in the top ten in the NFL and were ranked higher than the offense in all but two years of McNabb’s career and in the top ten in yards in six of the seasons. This team was driven by the defense, but yet…

Prosecution Exhibit E: Donovan's Contract

Donovan McNabb has had the largest cap number on the team since 2002, with the exception of this past season. McNabb’s contract has been a tremendous hindrance to the team, forcing them to release many of the defensive players (Douglas, Trotter, Vincent) that were the keys to the unit to the side of the ball that has always been the best for this team. McNabb signed a 12-year, $115 million dollar contract in 2002, which based on contract alone, makes him an elite quarterback. In three of the past five seasons, his cap number has been more or within a couple hundred thousand dollars of Peyton Manning, the best quarterback in the league. Until this season, he'd had a higher cap number than Tom Brady in only one season. McNabb is not mentioned in the same breath with these two, but on paper he's just as costly to the team. He’s paid like an elite quarterback, handicapping the team’s salary cap, but clearly Mr. McNabb has failed to deliver. I now yield the floor to the defense.


The Defense Will Now Present Its Case

We all know what a wordsmith and passionate litigator Catfish is so on that level I am unsure if I can match him. So instead I will say this, he has a very large head full of crazy ideas and slanted statistics. Huge. Beyond that, I am not here to say that Mr. McNabb is worthy of a bronze mongoloid bust in Canton, Ohio…yet, but rather I am here to verify what self-hating delusional Philadelphia sports fans do not want to accept as the truth: Donovan McNabb is the best quarterback to ever wear the Eagles’ uniform and has brough them great success that lacks only a Super Bowl title.

Defense Exhibit A: Philly Fans

Where to start? I think I will with the fans of the Eagles themselves. They are not the ones on trial, that’s what the jailhouse in their stadium was for, but I think it is an important factor to knowing why McNabb draws such harsh criticism. Let’s take a look around Lincoln Financial Field and see what type of people we are dealing with:

Right. These are not the most sensible people ever to walk the land and they are not exactly Quakers. The fans of this city believe it is an obligation to boo everyone and everything that represents their city in a sports venue. They take great pride for booing Santa Claus and pelting him with snowballs. Among those that they heckled with reckless abandon (be advised this is just a small sample of the list): Baseball Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt, several other members of last year’s World Champion Phillies including games during the playoffs, and Allen Iverson. The reputation for irrational fan treatment of athletes in Philadelphia speaks for itself. If you are unaware of the degree of this circumstance, I implore you to travel to Philly, visit a local tavern, order a Yuengling and ask about the Eagles and you will understand.

Defense Exhibit B: Teammates

Returning to the Iverson dynamic for a moment, his ire from the fans is perhaps most akin to the plight of McNabb since AI never was able to win a championship even after guiding them their during the 2000-2001 campaign. Iverson did not exactly have supreme talent around him during his run though. He did have Larry Brown, but just observe this list of teammates from that Finals team:

Dikembe Mutombo: Old even back then.
Aaron McKie: Local Temple boy made good, but not a star.
Eric Snow: Again a solid player but nothing spectacular.
Tyrone Hill: Good rebounder, scary persona.
George Lynch: Sorry Catfish, even though he is a Carolina boy, just a role player.
Matt Geiger: Ah, the heist of Matt Geiger, being paid for being tall and white.
Rodney Buford: Uh.
Jumaine Jones: Ju gotta be kidding me.
Todd MacCulloch: See Geiger but without the career or money.
Kevin Ollie: Gritty point guard but just a guy to fill time.
Roshown Mcleod: Lol.
Raja Bell: Before his skills were honed.
Pepe Sanchez: I really think this one deserves no explanantion.
Anthony Miller: Was young, even though he is nothing special now.

So Iverson had to take that roster and try to beat Kobe and Shaq in their prime? And that was the best roster Iverson ever played with in Philly! But I digress, this is about number 5.

McNabb’s fellow cast of characters are stronger than that 76er team when you look overall, but where has McNabb’s go to receiver been? There was one year of having Terrell Owens happy and not surprisingly, that was McNabb’s best year. Then T.O. had to be T.O. and as we have visited earlier, I do not think he has ever stopped being who he is and that is no fault of McNabb. Other than that, he has had such pass-catching goliaths as James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell, Greg Lewis, L.J. Smith, Hank Baskett, Kevin Curtis, and others. DeSean Jackson has been impressive this year, but he is still young and has had some key drops. McNabb’s one saving grace has been Brian Westbrook, but only when Westbrook is healthy which is not too often. At times the offensive line can look porous and that is being generous, I’m looking at you Winston Justice and Tre Thomas. The saving grace has been the Philly defense which has been a stout unit throughout Donovan’s time there. One exception is the last game however, where the defense could not stop the Cardinals from marching down the field in the fourth quarter after Donovan threw a 62 yard bomb to DeSean Jackson to give them the lead.

Defense Exhibit C: The Numbers

5 time pro-bowl selection
2000 MVP Runner-Up
2004 NFC Offensive Player of the Year
Named to the Eagles 75th Anniversary team
All-time Career Marks:
Passing Completions: 26th
Yards: 33rd
Passing TDs: 34th
Passer Rating: 18th
Pass INT %: 2nd

Defense Exhibit D: The Eagles Track Record

Until McNabb led the Eagles to Super Bowl 39, the only other Super Bowl the Eagles had made it was in 1980 where they lost 27-10 to the Raiders in a laugher. Donovan has been in 5 NFC Championship games in his ten years and lost in Super Bowl 39 to the Patriots 24-21. He had 30 completions and 357 yards (both third all-time in Super Bowls), and threw for 3 TDs. Despite the rumblings and rumors, the Eagles narrowly lost the game, bottom line.

McNabb inherited a team that went 3-13 the previous season when he was drafted in 1999. He has led them to the playoffs 6 times since then when they had only been to the post-season 7 times since their Super Bowl appearance in 1980. The Eagles are 8-7 without McNabb starting since 1999, and 5 of those wins came in the Super Bowl year when the defense helped Koy Detmer and AJ Feeley go 5-1 after McNabb suffered a broken ankle against the Cardinals in a game where he played through the injury. Mike McHahon went 2-5 in place of McNabb and Jeff Garcia went 5-1 in 2006 but he could do no better than Donovan in the playoffs as the Eagles lost to the Saints in the divisional round. Many were clamoring for Garcia to be the starter after that season, but Garcia led the Bucs to a first-round exit last year and did not even get his team to the playoffs this year despite a 9-3 start. When McNabb was benched against the Ravens this season, Kevin Kolb got a chance to show the Eagles fans that have been pining for him what he had to offer as an alternative to McNabb. Kolb came in the game and promptly set a record! The record was for the longest INT return for a TD in NFL history, 107 yards by Ed Reed.

Defense Exhibit E: The 1999 Draft

Philly fans were giving their trademark boos when the Eagles picked McNabb second in the 1999 draft. They wanted Ricky Williams; yeah that would have been the sagely pick. Ignoring the fact that the Eagles’ choices at QB would have been Koy Detmer or Bobby Hoying had they not drafted a quarterback, let us examine the other quarterbacks in this class. Picked before McNabb number 1 was Tim Couch, who apparently is running for office now. Taken behind McNabb was Akili Smith, did not see too many things from him in the league now did we? Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown, Shaun King, Brock Huard, Joe Germaine, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Daft, Michael Bishop, Chris Greisen, and Scott Covington include the remainder of QBs taken that weekend. Unless you count Culpepper’s stint with the Lions this year, McNabb is the only one left standing.

Prosecution's closing argument

No one wants to say another man has not earned his keep, and jury it is with a sincere sense of gravity that I understand what we're asking you jurors to do. His defense has tried to deflect the blame, pointing to the fans, other sports, and the failures of those of the same age, but please remember we're here not to try any of those people, we're here to discuss solely the defendant. The defense points to a comparison with Allen Iverson, but Mr. Iverson was not paired with a two-time All-Pro and arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the league for the last decade, Brian Westbrook. There is no doubt that Mr. McNabb has turned out quite a resume in terms of career numbers, but the list of 10-year starters in the NFL is short. The question at hand, is not does he have impressive career numbers, but would the Eagles be better off without him. In 2006, when Donovan got hurt, journeyman quarterback Jeff Garcia filled in and led the team to a 5-1 record to close out the season, taking a 5-5 team and leading them to the playoffs. He did so, with a cap value not a quarter of Mr. McNabb. If there's only thing you take with you into deliberation, remember that Mr. McNabb in the playoffs has 23 passing touchdowns and 23 turnovers. In closing, I would like to agree with the defense, the Eagles track record is not impressive, but perhaps their most egregious error was committing over $100 million dollars to a quarterback fails in passing, more than he succeeds.

Closing Argument

In summation, recapitulation, totality, and conclusion Donovan F. McNabb is the greatest quarterback in the NFL. To argue that would be folly considering the greats that have preceded him and his contemporaries, but it is time to not give him credit for what he in truth is. He is a well-above average quarterback for a franchise that has not seen a championship since 1960. His numbers, playoff appearances, and success compared to his draft class support that theory. It is important to look at where the Eagles would be without him, which is a far worse position. Very few signal-callers would be an upgrade to McNabb. He has not gotten them to the mountain top yet, but he has had them in the running more often than not. Does McNabb deserve the entirety of the credit for the Eagles being a competitive team his ten years in Philadelphia? Of course not, but conversely he does not deserve the amount of blame he gets from the fans and media when the team has fallen short of a Lombardi trophy. Judge him if you must, but use proper judgment when you do.

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